A fight brewed in the Legislature Wednesday over a proposal to clarify whether Wisconsin residents can make and serve beer outside their homes. Supporters, many home brewers, testified during a packed state Assembly committee hearing that they just want to continue brewing and sharing homespun suds as they have for years. But industry officials said the bill risks necessary state rules and regulations – especially those that apply to alcohol distribution.
“This is a hobby. We’re not talking about skirting regulation,” said Steve Wall, who spoke on behalf of the Wisconsin Home Brewers Alliance.
The bill was introduced after the state’s Department of Revenue determined in 2011 that current law prohibits brewers from transporting a homemade beverage outside their residences. It suddenly made the normal practice of local brew tasting events and competitions illegal, despite taking place for several years.
The bill would allow brewers to transport their homemade beer and wine, and allow them to make it outside their home. It would also exempt them from permit requirements and taxes. They’re limited in how much they can brew every year, which would be 100 gallons for one person in a household or 200 gallons for two people in a household. As with current law, brewers cannot sell any beverage they make.
But representatives with the Wisconsin Beer Distributors Association and the Wisconsin Wine and Spirit Institute argued against the bill, saying it would work outside state regulation that controls alcohol sales. They expressed concern with home brewers making alcohol outside the home, and said there’s no way to track if a home brewer makes more than they’re legally allowed.
Institute spokesman Mike Wittenwyler said the bill’s language is too relaxed, and could allow indirect compensation for brewers at tasting events and competitions through creative ticket sales.
“It takes these activities and sets them out of regulation,” he said. “They may have good intentions, but not everyone does.”
A representative with the Department of Revenue remained neutral on the bill, but listed several points the agency had interpreted with the bill. That included that the bill’s language does not specify whether it would comply with local ordinance on distribution hours and who would serve the beer.
Bruce Buerger with the Beer Barons of Milwaukee spoke in support of the bill, and emphasized that brewers are not interested in compensation. He said brewing is a hobby, and many brewers are just seeking feedback about their creations. He said ultimately, they just want to continue sharing their creations in the same way they’ve been doing for years.
“We are a responsible group of people,” he said. “We don’t want to break any laws.”
Rep. Dean Kaufert, R-Neenah, who helped introduce the bill, said the legislation is common sense and not aimed at illegal business activity.
“I was a little surprised that all of a sudden all these groups were having a problem with it,” he said. “The intent of this is for the little guy to share some beer among friends. I sense the big guys are trying to blow it out of proportion and create scenarios to try to get people riled up. Suddenly, it’s become David vs. Goliath.”
Kaufert said no one spoke against the bill last week when a Senate committee unanimously voted in support of it. But he said he’s willing to take another look at the bill’s language.
“If there are reasonable actions needed to take care of some of their fears, I’m willing to look at them,” he said.